Syracuse men’s lacrosse coach John Desko and his staff might be facing one of their most difficult preseason tasks in recent memory. I don’t envy them as they prepare the team for 2016.
They’re looking for two new starting attackmen and three new first-line middies before the Orange open at home against Siena on Feb. 13—and the solutions may not even be settled by then.
“We certainly have our challenges as coaches,” Desko said at lacrosse media day on Jan. 11. “The last two or three years, a lot of the team has come back, especially at the offensive end of the field. We walked out in the fall (for practices) and the Kevin Rices, and the Randy Staats and Schoonmakers and Galassos weren’t out there like they were for the last three and four years.”
Without Kevin Rice, Randy Staats, Nicky Galasso, Henry Schoonmaker and Hakeem Lecky—roughly 60 percent of the team’s scoring from 2015—Desko is expecting to make adjustments throughout the season as players make their marks.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see us mixing and matching with some attackmen coming up to play in the midfield and visa versa. We haven’t figured that all out yet,” he said.
At least one thing is figured out on offense: All America senior attackman Dylan Donahue, a 50-goal scorer in 2015, will figure prominently. Donahue was just the seventh player in program history to hit the mark and first since Tom Marachek in 1991. He’s also entering the season with a 25-game active goal-scoring streak.
But he won’t have players like Rice and Staats to feed him the ball or draw defenders away. Donahue will be the focus of opponents’ defenses from the get-go.
That’s why the continued development of junior Jordan Evans is so important to the team’s success. Desko tested Evans on attack in the fall, and he’s expected to slot No. 22 into the role against Siena.
Slowed by a series of injuries (ankle and knee), the highly-touted Jamesville-DeWitt product hasn’t had easy freshman and sophomore years. Evans tallied two goals in 11 games in 2014, and nine goals and three assists in 14 games in 2015.
If there’s a time for Evans to break out, it’s now.
Two transfers—Nick Mariano and Nick Piroli—also could fill out the attack. Mariano paced UMass with 22 goals and 20 assists as a sophomore last year. Piroli, a former star at Carthage, tallied 23 goals and seven assists for Brown in 2015.
“They’ve kind of fallen out of the sky for us, and they’ve done a really good job,” Desko said at media day.
Meanwhile, the Orange has options at midfield but none with much experience. Desko indicated at media day that the midfielders hadn’t separated themselves yet. Will Derek DeJoe, Ryan Simmons, Nick Weston, Sergio Salcido, Tom Grimm or Tim Barber rise to the top?
Desko can check a few things off his preseason to-do list. The Orange will be steadied by Ben Williams at faceoff and an experienced defense led by senior All America Brandon Mullins. And while senior Warren Hill wasn’t the primary netminder last year, he did play in six games, recording a 13.15 goals against average and a .513 save percentage. Hill also has starred with Onondaga Community College and the Iroquois Nationals team.
This team will be a work in progress, but if Donahue continues his stellar play, if Evans can fulfill his No. 22 potential, if the attack and midfield can find steady hands, if Williams can keep winning possessions and if the defense can be the anchor the team needs, I can see this team making a run.
That’s a lot of ifs, and there will be some lumps and bumps in the road (especially with the always challenging schedule), but the Orange could hit its stride in time for the quest to end a six-year title drought.